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Sunday, September 13, 2009

OGA SPR: The Minnesota Wild – The Colonel

The Ides of OGA has arrived. Today we provide SPR #15 from the State of Hockey for the Minnesota Wild...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called as Chasing Stanley – in the Playoffs – after Game 10 /1 November 2008 and stood as one of only three incorrect calls – a Shot Off The Post – by OGA last season. They began the season with their trademark, hot-out-of-the-chute start Wild fans had seen the previous two seasons. But at Game 30, they were only even with the curve and then fell below it for the rest of the season. By Game 70, their season was lost. Minnesota finished the campaign with a PQC of 4.45. This was their second worst season since the Lockout, continued a PQC performance slide of –7.5% per season since 2006/7, and was only good for the No. 9 seed in the West.

Post-Lockout average PQC and what to expect this season: Minnesota has averaged a 4.69 against the PQC over the last four seasons with two of their four years including a short run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their worst season against the PQC immediately followed the Lockout, but 2008/9 was almost that bad. Overall, the Wild start strong at the beginning of each season, playing above The Curve by Game 10. They tend to slip gears in Games 11 – 20 and by Game 30 (in mid-December) are only either at, or just below, the PQC. They also tend to flirt with mediocrity or disaster in the Game 31 – 60 mark where they traditionally play .532 Hockey. And by Game 70 in three of four post-Lockout seasons, the script is written stating the final IN or OUT call for post-season play. This season may be different based on adjustments to a more attacking (“up-tempo”) style of play, however. So if they are playing along The Curve from mid-December through the Olympic break, we likely will not know their final IN or OUT call until around Game 70 (mid-March). But if they are not playing along The Curve and the team does not succeed in winning closer to 6-in-10 games from mid-December to this season’s Olympic Break, they are likely doomed to Tee Time.

How Wild will the 2009/10 season be?

Team Play: ISSUE – What? Offense!? In the blink of an eye, the oft injured and sometime heart-questioned Marian Gaborik was out the door, winging his way eastward to The Big Apple (where he promptly did not skate on Day 1 of training camp to rest his groin). Had there been any panic, it was short lived as Martin Havlat entered the scene, somewhat angry with Chicago and looking like he is ready to seek retribution for their how they dealt with him. (Game 11 on 26 October is your target as the Wild travel to The Windy City for their first meeting of the season.) The healthy and high-flying Havlat of last season, it seems, is just the kind of offensive direction this team is heading for under new coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher.

The early CBS Sports page for the Wild indicates a No. 1 line of Brunette-Koivu-Havlat from left to right, and Pouliot-Sheppard-Miettinen on No. 2. Take that with a grain of salt – Mike Russo’s interview with GM Chuck Fletcher indicates the team is going into camp with experimentation in mind. In fact, the camp-opening game on 13 September had the same No. 1 line as above with Havlat netting 1 G and 1 A for his team’s 2-1 scrimmage victory. The line they played against was Clutterbuck-Bouchard-Miettinen which may or may not wind up being the No. 2 unit – Pouliot and Sheppard stayed together but Owen Nolan was their third. Keep a watchful eye on training camp as the team solidifies their lines for the new system.

News Flash: Mike Russo reports Peter Sykora will arrive in camp today on a tryout basis which could bode well for a second or third line combinaiton.

Early talk about the team’s defense mentioned two things: there are already seven defenders with one-way contracts; and Tyler Cuma was a force to be reckoned with in the summer Prospect camp. When Brent Burns is your only defender that projects at 30+ points out of your top four blue liners, a speedy, more offensively-oriented Cuma could knock someone to the waiver wires. Expect the defense to need time to adjust to the new up-tempo system creating some statistical drop off along the way.

Of interest, too, are the stats to be displayed by the goaltenders. A more offensive squad is going to expose Niklas Backstrom to more SOG against. The first camp scrimmage wasted no time in testing his (hip) tensile strength as he was in net against the projected Number 1 line. While No. 2 goalie Josh Harding has re-signed with the club, there is likely just enough concern with Backstrom’s status that former-Islander Wade Dubielewicz was signed in the off-season for insurance. It also does not hurt when strong competition for the No. 2 netminder position is present when you consider the compressed schedule will call for more games from every team’s backup.

This team, bottom line, is going to have to find its sea legs early in the season, so you cannot necessarily expect the traditionally strong jump out of the gate. Hook your Daily Tip In Report from On Goal Analysis to keep an eye on how this team progresses toward its goal of securing a Playoff berth.

Fantasy Value: Martin Havlat is a great Round 2 choice as one of your forwards. Based on the Lemaire system’s output, Brunette and Koivu would be good middle-round forwards to pick up. They could wind up becoming a steal, however, depending on Coach Richards’ new style. We are high on Brent Burns who is healthy and ready to go – he projects somewhere up near the 40-50 point mark. If you are in a league who must draft a rookie and he cracks the lineup, snagging Tyler Cuma may also be a stroke of genius. We recommend Niklas Backstrom with two warnings: 1) watch him at camp to ensure he is truly 100% healthy; and 2) the usually opponent-smothering stats will probably trend downward a bit as the team opens up the offensive throttle.

Schedule Analysis: A tough opening 10 and 15 additional back-to-back pairs. For a primary analysis of the team’s overall 2009/10 regular season schedule, go to this link.

Next up tomorrow is the Montreal Canadiens’ 2009/10 SPR…

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1 comment:

Big Tex said...

Good stuff, Colonel! You just HAD to bring up Gaborik's tender groin, though, didn't you? Well, now that he's playing on Broadway, Minnesota won't have his groin to kick around anymore.

Now that I've gotten my morning witticism out of the way, I have to say it will be interesting to watch the Wild transition to a more offense-oriented game. I think it'll be another season which ends at Game 82, though, as they don't appear to have enough scoring talent to play the new system effectively (yet).